Durham eye long-term relationship with Sangakkara

The Northern Echo: LONG-TERM DEAL?: Kumar Sangakkara has signed for Durham for two matches - but could return for longer in the future LONG-TERM DEAL?: Kumar Sangakkara has signed for Durham for two matches - but could return for longer in the future

JON LEWIS is hoping Kumar Sangakkara's whistle-stop spell with Durham will be the start of a much longer-lasting relationship with the Sri Lankan international.

Sangakkara, who is ranked the second-best batsman in the world in the ICC Test rankings, has signed up to play two County Championship matches for Durham and met his new team-mates for the first time yesterday.

The 36-year-old will make his Durham debut in a four-day home game with Yorkshire that starts on Sunday, and will also appear against Sussex before linking up with the Sri Lankan squad as they prepare for a tour of England that will feature a One-Day International at Chester-le-Street.

With Ben Stokes' injury having compounded the loss of Dale Benkenstein and Will Smith, who moved on over the winter, Durham are hoping Sangakkara's arrival will bolster their batting strength.

And while the left hander might be only be making a brief stay in the county this summer, his desire to play a full English season when he retires from international cricket has raised hopes that Durham could position themselves in the driving seat to sign him again.

“I am sure Kumar will have a big influence in a short period of time,” said head coach Lewis. “It would be nice if it was longer, I have to be honest – by the time he has found his feet, it will almost be time for him to move on, which is a shame. But maybe we will be able to make a connection and maybe there will be a future in it.

“If we can make sure that, firstly, Kumar has a good time with the bat and enjoys his short stay, then he will be keen to come back.

“He's maybe got 18 months left of international cricket, but he's a fit guy and he has a hungry, sharp mind. I think he probably wants to squeeze a bit more out of his body before he hangs his boots up, and maybe this will be the place.”

Durham persuaded Shivnarine Chanderpaul to spend multiple spells in their ranks, and the hope is that the next two games will provide an appetising taster that could potentially lure Sangakkara back to Chester-le-Street for a full season, possibly in the summer of 2016.

That would be quite a coup, but for now, Lewis is simply delighted to be able to call upon the services of a batsman who averages 58.07 in his 122 Test appearances and has scored more than 16,000 runs in first-class cricket.

“His reputation goes before him,” said Lewis. “I know his Test record in England is probably a bit more than a fraction under his overall Test record, but that's something that, even at this stage in his career, he is determined to do something about, which is a really good indicator for me.

“It's never easy (to move to a new country and hit the ground running), but if anyone is capable of doing it, it is him. He has a wealth of experience in all forms and all conditions, and that will obviously help him. Plus his determination to do well will also be a big part of it.

“He's not here for the ride – he's here to make an impact. Yes, to prepare himself for the rest of the summer, but also to make an impact for Durham.”

Sri Lanka play a Twenty20 international, five One-Day Internationals and two Tests during their forthcoming tour, and Lewis is braced for accusations that, by signing Sangakkara, Durham are helping one of England's key opponents play himself into form.

“It won't be a surprise if people say that, but I don't think anyone is really looking at it as a treacherous act,” he said. “It's the right move for Durham.

“I think Durham have been pretty good with supplying England with players in the last few years, and the fact that (Ben) Stokes is the guy he is probably coming in to replace, I don't feel bad about it in any way. If he does really well for us, that will be good enough for me.”

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